Late Summer Misty Morning

It is probably hot most everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. Even in Ireland it was 22C yesterday and with the general humidity of an island climate, it felt pretty steamy to the likes of me who is heat averse. I was awake at dawn, unusually for me now that I no longer write a poem a day. It was a pleasant reunion with the amrit vela, the darkness before first light. I watched the sun rise over the wind turbines on Arigna and then a mist roll down until it stopped right at our property line. The willow trees that soak up the sogginess and bogginess of our acre were completely gilded with dawn light. The global axis turns down into autumn; it is, to me at least, the most breathtaking time of year anywhere in the world here in Ireland.

The Sunday Weekly will be brief this week. There is garden produce to process. There is a funeral in the neighbourhood and we are negotiating the new rituals of Covid19 that have altered centuries old mourning traditions. Masked, I handed a cake into my neighbour’s home yesterday for their visitors. The door stood open since it was a fine day. One person stood across the length of the small sitting room, while the other sat masked by the door. It is a tight fit for social distancing in these old cottages and houses. I asked the local funeral director what the drill is to be: 50 in the church, the rest out in the car park for both the removal and funeral. Masks mandatory from Monday and Monday is the funeral. Hand gel is at the church door – the new holy water, I guess.

But I return to nature and the seasons, the immutably mutable of life. I turned my hand to a tanka for this week’s poem.

Mist's incoming tide
Dawn's sun gilds the blackbird's beak
Crowns his willow home
Heat haze recedes -the tide's out
Leaves just bathed in topaz light

Have a good week. Get yourself some time out to bathe in nature. I have produce to process and put in the freezer. I fancy some peach cobbler for supper. The warm weather is set for this week, which may mean more opportunities for me to meet the amrit vela of the day and watch the light pad across our acre from the east.

The featured image is a Photo by Helena Gunnare on Unsplash

Zoom with Word Alchemy in September

Since publicizing the Zoom introductory creative writing workshops starting on 1st September, we have had the first international student join the group! I figured an evening slot might draw a few participants from different time zones and I am pleased to be able to include them.

Why do I call this introductory program Pick n Mix?

There are still some places available in the workshop that will allow you to try out several different types of writing form – short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and memoir. I call this introductory programme ‘Pick n Mix’ because it caters to many tastes. And you might be surprised to find out that you do have a craving to write short fiction or poetry even ifyou think you are strictly a non-fiction kind of writer.

These online weekly workshops include some in-session writing exercises, as well as group sharing of homework and ongoing work. We will explore these forms over the course of September, a different form each week. You will receive emailed course reading material, inspirational video resources at the beginning of each unit, some weekly homework, and a weekend motivator email to help you keep on track with your writing practice.

This is the outline for the Pick n Mix introductory course over September 2020:

Week 1 – September 1st -8th – Short fiction

Week 2 – September 9th -15th – Poetry

Week 3 – September 16th -22nd – Creative Nonfiction

Week 4 – – September 23rd – 30th – Memoir

The course format includes:

  • One weekly emailed assignment
  • 2hr  weekly Zoom seminar from 8pm-10pm  Dublin time on Thursdays, September 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th And/or 2 hr Zoom seminar from 12noon – 2pm Dublin time on Saturdays, 5th, 12th,19th and 26th September
  • One weekly writing motivational email

Block book the four weekly sessions for a cost of €45/£41 payable by Paypal. Alternatively, Residents of Republic of Ireland and UK may pay by cheque if they prefer.

Word Alchemy creative writing workshops are held spaces where we can inspire, encourage, and share ideas with one another. We collaborate in the process of beginning with raw ideas and support the magic as they are transformed into something meaningful for both writer and reader. I love teaching creative writing – and would really miss sharing the glory of creative expression using the written word. Covid-19 has challenged me to reconfigure the way I can continue working. These Zoom seminars are the way forward for me as a creative writing facilitator. Under the trading name of Word Alchemy, over the past seven years I have worked with kids from ages 9 to 14. I have worked with adults in all women and all men groups and mixed gender groups. I have worked in schools, community halls, arts centres, outdoors and in prisons. I have conducted workshops outdoors at sites in Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark. It’s a bit of a vocation for me.

As I tell those who have walked around the Cavan Burren Park with me while visiting the megaliths created by our neolithic ancestors -humans craved making art from our earliest beginnings. They made rock art before they got around to inventing agriculture to create food security for the growing population. They connected with the numinous and aligned their dolmens with the stars at important seasonal points in the year.

As the wheel of the year turns toward the darkening in the Northern Hemisphere, nurturing our creativity is one way of asserting our being human. Covid19 cannot take that from any of us. We just have to get canny with how we continue to connect and create.

Want to sign up? The registration form can be found here! zoom-into-creative-writing-this-september

There were some initial issues with the registration form, which WordPress tell me is now working fine. But if you do wish to register and experience a problem, please do not hesitate to email me at dowrabeesmith@gmail.com.

I am looking forward to meeting old friends and new participants as we all encourage each other to deepen our writing practice.

Breaking the Lammas Loaf

It’s been a tumultuous week! And I am not just talking about the news cycle. On a personal level, I began to promote my Zoom creative writing seminars that will start with an introductory month in September. Each week you get to try out a new genre – it’s a taster to see which one may be you particular favoured form of creative expression. But as with all new ventures there are hiccups. In my case it is the registration form on the blog post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/07/31/zoom-into-creative-writing-this-september/. Needless to say, my first few punters alerted me to the issues and I have referred them to WordPress. I hope to have that unsnarled within the next couple days. Do keep trying and add comments about your experience.

Also, the Celtic Wheel of the Year has cranked into the season of Lammas, or Lúnasa as we call it Ireland. That is also the Irish for the month of August. The season’s theme is the gathering in of the first harvest, as well as releasing. I spent the past few days in activities very much in keeping with the holiday. I sorted out seeds for saving. I made like the squirrel and added more items to the emergency winter provision cupboard. And, quite unconsciously, I found myself baking a loaf of spelt bread on Lammas Eve. (For that, many thanks to my English friend who sent me dried yeast in the post. All through Lockdown there was none to be found in any local shops. Maybe they figured the nation would only bake soda bread at home?) We took the first cut on August 1st. And very tasty it is, too! I am getting more proficient at this bread baking lark.

As for my releasing, that was the announcement of the Zoom courses I am devising for anyone’s delectation this autumn and, with any luck, into the winter. I sense we will need some diversion at home for the restof this year. Flexing one’s creativity muscle is the best kind of exercise, especially in the months at the dark end of year.

In the meantime, it is Sunday. And yes! I have a seasonally appropriate poem!

Lúnasa First Light
 
Dawns can be sketchy –
a tease of cobalt cloud shot through
with gilded light, threading Midas like.
 
The lupins, aquilegia and foxgloves
have dropped their heads.
I empty seeds out
 
into paper envelopes.
Not tumbrels. No fanfare. No drumroll.
Just the cutting
 
into the spelt bread I baked
on Lúnasa Eve. The ancient grain
ground down. The pips dibbed in
 
sweet sour raspberry jam.
Seeds saved for sowing in another season.
Not all is lost, even at our most careless.
 
The light takes a downward slant,
Like a sharp blade angling to cut –
the whoosh and whir of the scythe’s brush.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
 

Sorry there is no pretty picture today. For some reason – either our internet is running like treacle or WordPress is having issues, I have failed to load the featured image after attempts over the past thirty minutes. So…until something smooths the path of pretty pictures…

Zoom into Creative Writing this September

Zoom creative writing workshops

Regular readers of this blog will know that in late June and early July I asked for volunteers to help me learn how to run a creative writing workshop on Zoom. With Covid19, we are having to reinvent our world. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but it does not have to be done in isolation. Writers need feedback. Writers need encouragement. Writers need to find new approaches to help us construct our poems or paragraphs. Mostly, we need to communicate and express ourselves through the glory of the written word.

I loved teaching creative writing – even to reluctant writers. Under the trading name of Word Alchemy, over the past seven years I have worked with kids from ages 9 to 14. I have worked with adults in all women and all men groups and mixed gender groups. I have worked in schools, community halls, arts centres, outdoors and in prisons. It’s a bit of a vocation for me. I have conducted workshops outdoors at sites in Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, usually ones that combine haiku writing with walking in all of nature’s splendour.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab
After a walk on the Cavan Burren, teens create a renga poem
haiku poetree walkers
Ready to ginko down Claddagh Glen at Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre

Covid19 made me sit down and have a really hard re-think about how or if I could continue. My husband is 70 and I will soon be 64. We have cocooned quite contentedly, but I am aware that others found it hard. We have to keep our social distance and I will shield for as long as necessary because I really want to keep both of us fit and in good fettle for another couple decades. In winter it can be hard to get out on icy roads in our rural area anyway. I generally worked in person in spring and autumn time. But neither am I in denial and think that Covid19 will be magically disappear anytime soon.

We need to keep ourselves occupied and motivated. We need each other, but we also need to keep our distance. These seminars are my response to the challenges of our current circumstances.

Besides, this is what creatives do…we create.

To be clear, I plan to kick off from September when the schools, at least in Ireland, will go back in session. So far, I have three courses planned. In September I will welcome beginners and improvers, those you may not have had a go at writing for some time. While I have a number of faithful students who are used to my methods, I felt that it was important to start with a taster course. Then I will offer month long courses that will focus on short fiction in October and poetry in November.

Because so many of us are working in unfamiliar patterns – working at home, working new and varying shift patterns, on different days alternate weeks, etc.– I have decided to offer two Zoom slots a week to adapt  and include as many who want to nurture themselves  with some creative expression. So long as no session has more than eight participants we can cope! One will be on a Thursday evening and the second will be Saturday at noon.  The time slots can even concievably include people who do not live in my own time zone! (Some have already asked!) If you cannot make your preferred regular slot on any particular week, then you can join the other meeting and not miss out on any unit.

These online weekly workshops include some in-session writing exercises, as well as group sharing of homework and ongoing work.  We will explore these forms over the course of September, a different form each week. You will receive emailed course reading material, inspirational video resources at the beginning of each unit, some weekly homework, and a weekend motivator email to help you keep on track with your writing practice.

Word Alchemy creative writing workshops are held spaces where we can inspire, encourage, and share ideas with one another.  We collaborate in the process of beginning with raw ideas and support the magic as they are transformed into something meaningful for both writer and reader.

I am calling the initial course “Pick n Mix’ because you get to try out a number of kinds of writing and get a feel for what may be your metier. Or, you might even surprise yourself and find out that even though you thought you were a memoirist that actually you have a wicked sense of humour that romps in short story or creative non-fiction forms.

So here is the plan for openers:

Week 1 – September 1st -8th – Short fiction

Week 2 – September 9th -15th – Poetry

Week 3 – September 16th -22nd – Creative Nonfiction

Week 4 – – September 23rd – 30th – Memoir

The course format includes:

  • One weekly emailed assignment
  • 2hr  weekly Zoom seminar from 8pm-10pm  Dublin time on Thursdays, September 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th And/or 2 hr Zoom seminar from 12noon – 2pm Dublin time on Saturdays, 5th, 12th,19th and 26th September
  • One weekly writing motivational email

Block book the four weekly sessions for a cost of €45/£41 payable by Paypal. Alternatively, Residents of Republic of Ireland and UK may pay by cheque if they prefer.

I hope to meet new students,even as I welcome past participants who live in Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Leitrim here in Northwest Ireland. It would be great to have some international students in the mix! The Irish are always hospitable. Even if we won’t be able to lay on the tea and barm brack, we will always have plenty good craíc!

Class begins with the first email to you on 1st September! Want to Join?

Send in this Registration Form!

Bee Smith
Bee Smith invites you to join with other creative colleagues in her Word Alchemy workshops on Zoom

Featured image is Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

If only all lives really DID matter…

These past weeks I have been processing my grief over the state of the world, and especially the state of my motherland. If I see one more ‘All Lives Matter’ meme on social media my patience will snap like the taut and frayed rubber band it is some days. Because evidence is very clear that all lives do NOT matter. Ask people of colour. Ask people who are disabled. Ask the single mum juggling multiple jobs and is constantly in debt. Ask any nurse anywhere in the world who is STILL low paid and risking his or her life everyday in our COVID19 world with inadequate PPE. Heck, if you even want to look at the privileged end of the spectrum, ask the female news co-anchor who earns less than her male counterpart!

Everyday we see evidence that ALL lives do not matter. It is not just a divided world, but a deeply unequal world because the operating system is that all lives do NOT matter. There is plenty of evidence that some lives are credited to be worth more. Often they have higher bank balances.

To say ‘All Lives Matter’ to people who have first hand experience that this is not true is to rub salt in a raw wound. It has the same ring of truth to it as “Arbeit Macht Frei”, the slogan over the gates of Auschwitz. Work did not make anyone free there. It was a slogan to pacify. It was propaganda.

Aside from the fact that the phrase has become a dog whistle for white supremacy, what some literalists really are saying is that All Lives SHOULD Matter. That is not the same thing at all. The majority can probably (hopefully) unite behind that qualifying ‘should’ in that phrase. But unity is not exactly part of our operating system either. One would have hoped that a deadly virus disrupting the planet might have had some tonic effect. Sadly, it has not.

Hence, some days I am in deep grief. I am beyond the denial stage. I have experienced the pain and guilt. I have spikes of anger. I have days of depression, crushed by the weight of the wickedness that many deny. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (or righteousness in some translations) for they shall be satisfied.”

Of course, we will not have that hunger and thirst satisfied until we all start behaving as if all lives actually do matter. That we will have to love the perceived enemy and turn the other cheek just as the late Representative John Lewis did, he who forgave the Klansman that beat him senseless, he who accepted that man’s repentence and apology. That is the true meaning of grace.

Our hearts will have to open up a larger and larger space for that to happen. There will need to be less of the ‘I’ and more of the ‘we, ALL the people,’ not just the person who looks like one’s self, or acts the same, or holds the identical beliefs and opinions. We will need to accept our guilt and repent and then get to that final stage of grief where we find new motivation, become inspired and rediscover hope.

I am waiting to be satisfied. I’ve been feeling mighty hungry and thirsty for a long time. I want to be hopeful. Consider this poem I wrote back in 2016, my longing then for a change in the collective heart, for a world where we find that mislaid moral compass and act with magnanimity. It has been a long time coming. I pray for that collective state of grace every morning.

What Really Matters

It’s been that kind of week
where I have wandered stunned,
blinking my eyes furiously,
weary, wordless.

It’s been heavy weather.
It’s hot somewhere. Somewhere
someone is getting shot
and it’s not so random

who gets to be the duck
in the shooting gallery.
I am weary and tearful, wondering
how it feels

to go through life knowing
you have a target
on your back
for someone to bait and hate?

How does it feel to be
the mother of some son,
permanently on alert,
trying to hide that

big, round bull’s-eye on her
sweet child’s back
just because he is
brown or gay or black?

I want to weep
but there has just been
too much hate this week.
We need so much more

than a safety pin trying
to hold the centre
together.  Risk all for love!
the poet wrote. He was Muslim.

It might start with standing up
to bullies on a tram.
It might end by being
on that same firing line

with the guy who has had
a target on his back
all his life
but this time

he won’t be alone.
It’s not right that it
might matter more
to some

the one who would not let
that guy with the bull’s-eye
on his back go out
into that dark goodnight

on his own. But
it does matter that he
did not go alone.
It matters

that the world
not have a heart
the size
of a pickled walnut.

That someone take a hand
out of their pocket, grab hold
of that marked man,
that they duck and dive

together
trying to stay alive,
getting home to hug
their mothers and their lovers.

Now that would be a good night.
That would be a better day.
There might still be
a few tears,

but Love
would not have taken
yet another
fatal hit.

© Bee Smith 2016


As I see Moms in yellow t-shirts and Dads with leafblowers in Portland, I see people extending the hand that repents, apologises, that wants to get a son and daughter home safe tonight.

The featured image is an official portrait of the late Rep. John Lewis from Wikipedia.

Cognitive Dissonance

How can it be so sunny outside and yet so dark? We are living in a state of prolonged cognitive dissonance. Reopening after lockdown and quarantine does not mean Covod-19 went away, magically. It is still there, travelling in droplets on air. Not that you would notice by the way some people behave. Consequently, Ireland is now stalled in Phase 3 of the Roadmap. Everyone will be required to where masks in shops from tomorrow. But as one friend said during an outdoor, socially distanced tea party, “I wish they had just told us to do it from the very beginning instead of making everyone just make up their own mind.”

Minds can be very tricky things. As my husband has said at times, “the mind is not your best friend at times.” We rationalise actions that may not be in our own best interests. Which can be summed up in the definition of cognitive dissonance, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.”

Any quick newsclip confirms that we live amidst collective cognitive dissonance. Did I not see an unmasked traffic warden on the main street in Enniskillen chatting virtually shoulder to shoulder with a passerby this past week? Even with signs reminding everyone to socially distance two metres? Behaviour like that had me sprinting to the getaway car without my hard to get items I had on my list. I could do without.

Pandemics are never sprints. They are marathons. This one is unique for a generation raised on vaccination. Sudden death may take form in random violence, but rarely by illness. Even our most terminal diagnoses usually involve heroic attempts to stem the drowning tide.

This week’s Sunday poem is a reminder from Lockdown. The poem was shortlisted in the Fish Lockdown Poetry competition. In case you thought that the virus has disappeared just because shops are open for business, here is a reminder. Lockdown was hard. Safely emerging from our cocoons is even more difficult. I was incandescent this week when it was reported that there were Texan tourists roaming around the Irish countryside who failed to quarantine for fourteen days before touring around. Small business owners, with a duty of care to their employees and an eye to their already exorbitant insurance costs, turned them away. But why should they have to have been put in that position in the first place? The new minister for Tourism got a sharp email from me. North American tourism may be (have been?) a big wedge of Irish economy. But a single asymptomatic, infected tourist getting tipsy, ignoring social distancing in a pub and lustily singing rebel songs could take down half a small county in Ireland. What were they thinking? (The airlines, the tourist, the government trusting people to do the right, uncomfortable thing, when people think they can go back to the old way of doing things.)

See how the mind can sometimes not be our best friend?

Our world has changed. Change is uncomfortable. The longer people continue with the collective cognitive dissonance the old normal way of life recedes and recedes and recedes. The discomfort – and far worse – remains the daily reality for millions.

Have you a fever? Do you cough?
 
It is really very tiring waiting for the other shoe to drop.
We unlearn our helplessness by training ourselves
with endless YouTube tutorials. We remember, vaguely,
how to sew and cook without a recipe book.
Though what shall we substitute for an avocado?
 
We queue and are let into shops two by two.
We are re-creating The Ark in our new Anschluss.
In the supermarket we cruise the one-way aisles
where no one makes eye contact.
 
It is very tiring to have to sanitise all your groceries
along with our worry and uncertainty. Inside, we lifestyle
our bunker’s décor for diversity, celebrating our make do and mend
individuality.  The avocado, grown from a pip, fails to fruit.
It droops and quivers on the windowsill each winter.
 
It is really very tiring despite all the sleep I get
in ten hour shifts. I dream of Sleeping Beauty, her castle.
I feel climbing in my chest its choking vine.
And when I awake, I feel tired.  I feel tired
all the time.

Stay safe. You may not be comfortable with the new normal, but adapt and survive as they say. Mask up! Keep up the social distance!

covid19 mask up!
Mask up! Keep your distance!

Photo by tam wai on Unsplash

Featured Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Finding One’s New Normal

Are you feeling tired, too? It is taxing to figure out all the new details of our new normal. I feel like a tortoise just beginning to stick its head out from its shell after a long spell of hibernation. I am also locomoting at tortoise pace. Like me, other friends have noticed feeling tired. Though it might just be that the whole world is feeling tired. It’s been a pretty stressy few months.

It takes energy and imagination to re-vision how you are going to work while taking into consideration that your very breath – an explosive laugh, a sneeze, a cough, a sung note – could fell a healthy person into a clearcut forest. A lot of folk still not cannot get their heads around that they could wreck that kind of devastation when they don’t feel sick at all. But they can. And they still do.

I realise that it is easier for introverts to stay away and stay in, especially when they have beautiful scenery to look out onto and a garden to sit in for carefully placed socially distanced tea parties. But it also takes energy and imagination for introverts who earned most of their income from freelance teaching to figure out if they have any career mileage left. Because I love my 70 year old husband and am taking no chances with exposing myself, and therefore, himself, to havocking pathogens. This week, I have had many light bulb moments, some really inspiring zoom meetings and telephone conversations, and some typing time working on proposals, chiselling out what might just be my new normal working life.

It is exciting, but also very, very tiring. I needed a Sunday lie in.

It can be really tiring creating a New Normal. How is your’s looking? Feeling edgy? A bit like a cliff hanger in a serial?

Precipice

Worlds are always vanishing.
They become collectables plundered in corners
of junk shops, or thrifted, or dusted off
found things in granny's attic after she has died.

Some worlds come out for a day
to be celebrated or elevated to heritage
status. But this is just some other version
we tell ourselves at bedtime to send us to sleep.

Worlds are always in the making,
brick by brick, then the mortaring in.
Some fear, some love, some hope converges,
the sum of your faith filling in what is a life.

How a cliff edge and the cleft in your chin
are fear and love and hope
that it all will not cave in, stay -
edgy, sharp, beyond the vanishing point.


Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

Featured image is a Photo by Pagie Page on Unsplash

Hat Trick Eclipse

The Sunday Weekly poetry post coincides with the third eclipse in thirty days. We had a full moon lunar eclipse on 5th June. Then came the solar eclipse that coincided with Summer Solstice. Then the very rare third eclipse within thirty days. Eclipses generally only come in pairs. We will have to wait another eight years before we see the triple eclipse in a month phenonmena.

I am still doing practice runs on Zoom, figuring out how I want to format creative writing Zoom worshops online with my band of volunteers. Yesterday’s exercise involved some rapid associations with the word eclipse. Other than the astronomical and ornithological definitions, it is also used in comparisons to say X has surpassed Y somehow. Also, “to obscure the light.” I asked the usual six questions of what, where, who, when, why and how light is or can be obscured. Then…go!

My own in class cogitations resulted in this word doodle that concentrated on the Lilith – Adam- Eve triangle. I always characterise lunar eclipses as being Lilith kinds of events. Because she was said to like to be on top, which led to a very stormy marital bed with Adam.

Eclipsed

The sun and moon collide.

The full moon rides the sun
like a witch astride her besom.
Lilith left Adam in the shade.

Eve found the desire to know
had a bewitching, heady perfume.
Eve stayed with Adam in shadow. 

Paradise - delayed.

This stormy morning that alternates between heavy rain showers and brief bursts of sunshine, I had another stab at the theme.  Wallace Steven’s sublime 13 Ways to Look at a Blackbird always feels like a suitable poem to read on the Sabbath.  That is a masterful poem, but also a useful reminder to look at a subject from as many angles as possible. This morning I managed eight.


Eight Ways to Watch An Eclipse

1.
Two lovers
astride, ride out the night,
extinguishing each other's light.
Sun. Moon. Wonder.

2.
The blinds drawn
to shut out the cold night.
Also, the heat, the glare
of too harsh daylight.

3.
The closed door
at the end of the dark corridor.
The muffled shouts.
The shove. The fall. The doubts.

4.
A small girl
struck dumb, undone,
the less favoured one
sucking her thumb.

5.
The costume -
a mask, a cloak worn
with dagger drawn beneath its folds.
All is shadow.

6.
Silhouette -
the inch of light seeping
from under the door ahead.
What can we expect?

7.
The pitch spread
repairing the holes in the road.
Look how green shoots so soon
poke through, embed.

8.
Let it fall!
All his beautiful plumage show,
the feathers on the floor before
a new world, in embryo, can grow.


Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

 

NB: Never look directly at a solar eclipse. It can cause severe visual impairment or blindness.

Featured image is a Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Who Was That Masked Man?

Another week and this Sunday’s post marks the end of the deepest cocooning of Ireland. From tomorrow we can travel whereever we wish in the Republic and we can get a haircut! We are going to have to wear masks on public transport and are being strongly encouraged to do so in supermarkets. As an enthusiastic masker from the beginning, and usually the only one in my village doing so, I really hope it is embraced. But I am aware that people balk at it on a really visceral level. And in Ireland there is none of that politicisation nonsense happening. So why do some people have such a problem with masks?

These past couple of weeks I have been pilotting a small creative writing class on Zoom with past students with the patience to hold my hand as I fumble through the new technology. While many are plotting their way back outside again, I am plotting a way to get some income through the winter months when weather can cancel classes. Also, I am creating a safe burrow because I do not think Covid19 will magically disappear in winter when Irish hospitals routinely deal with the winter vomitting bug and various strains of flu. I love people, but my more introverted nature is hard-wired for happiness holed up in winter. Fortunately, my husband is similarly hard-wired and we are content with each other’s company though we pretty much tinker away at our own projects all day. We like the quiet life.

So keep tabs on this space when I announce 30 day modules of creative writing Zoom classes this autumn and winter. The dark months in the Northern Hemisphere are perfect for incubating lots of creative projects.

I asked my class to mind map around the subject of masks and then to write a short piece, either flash fiction or a poem. I also sent them a video of Maya Angelou reciting her poem “We Who Wear Masks” before the session as an inspiration. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HLol9InMlc

You might want to try that exercise to find all the various associations you have with masks. See where your wild mind will take you.

My own mind map was all over the place with lots of arrows and squiggly lines that sort of connected disparate elements. For instance, if you excavate the genesis of Halloween costumes and masking children you go back to the folk belief that the veil between our world and the ‘the other world’ or parallel universe was tissue thin. They wanted to fool whatever malignant spirits might want to whisk away their beautiful child to the other realm. So they dressed up children in ghoulish garb to make them unappealing to travelling spirits. Halloween dress up was all about protection.

While protection and survival was one strand on my map, there was the trickier element of the Lord of Misrule, those Masked Balls so beloved by licentious Regency aristocrats and lusty carnival goers in Venice. There was the secret self that is given license to throw off inhibitions or social conventions for a spell. Then there were the superheros and justice warriors like Batman. Many of those Marvel characters mask the upper face rather than the lower part of the face.

Immigrant Muslim women who choose to veil the lower part of their face have received wide disapprobation in the West. Is there something in our Western culture’s collective psyche that is freaked out by not seeing a person’s mouth? We don’t all have to lip read after all! If we consider eyes as the mirror of the soul and you can see a person’s eyes with an upper mask, what social cues are we missing when a person masks the lower face?

Some human beings are gifted at dissembling, for projecting a ‘false face’ even when not wearing a physical mask. So why so much resistance, when wearing a mask can be a matter of life or death for some individuals?

I will let you walk around your own mental labyrinth on the subject. My students came up with very individual ways of entering into that maze. See where it takes you and what revelations await you.

In the meantime, the weekly poem…

 
“Who Was That Masked Man?”
 
Halloween tricksters about!
Hide your beautiful children!
Let them remain unseen
in costumes of Skeletor or Spiderman.
 
Here promenades the Plague Doctor
in our own version of divine commedia dell’arte,
nose full of bitter herbs
masking the stench of destruction.
 
We laugh. We drink.
We dance at the Masked Ball.
At midnight, we unmask our fear of desolation,
left standing, holding our secret selves.
 
We wait for the Lone Ranger and Tonto
to Heighho, Silver! Away!
They ride off to happy end another week’s
episode of injustice.
 
Take up your facial shield and buckler.
If you can see the smile
in the whites of their eyes,
you are standing too close.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as the Lone Ranger and Tonto in the TV series that ran from 1949-1957 on US television

I will leave you with my own pandemic face mask anecdote. We needed to get some items from the town 20km over. As we were there already, we picked up some items from the supermarket and used the post office that shares houseroom with the market. I know the postmaster by name and greeted him. When he saw me wearing the mask he queried, “Customer of Bandit?”

We had a companiable laugh.

Noticing

A lot can happen in a week’s time. This week I piloted my first creative writing Zoom session with a handful of volunteers who are helping me find my way towards the most workable method and format. I have been facilitating creative workshops in the Marble Arch Caves Geopark region now for nearly ten years. I know I will need to alter some of my teaching methods, but I also want to maintain the integrity of the sharing sessions. Besides, come winter when we are all holed up, we will need these kinds of interactions as we isolate to keep the bugs at bay. We have another session at this week’s end which I hope will tease out the details of how I will operate in the Word Alchemy Zoom Room.

Also this week, our Taoiseach announced that the Roadmap to Re-opening is being accelerated since we have maintained our flattened curve. From next Monday we can drive anywhere, not just stick to our county or venture 20 km if we have to cross county boundaries. We still need to mask on public transport and in crowded shops, but we are also asked to be sensible and leave anywhere as the it begins to build a crowd. And, as always, maintain two metres social distance and wash your hands! But I cannot say I am hankering to go any great distance. I can now book a hair dresser appointment and get a trim from my local hairdresser who will be in mask and PPE and providing for customers likewise; I am waiting patiently for my appointment. That may be about as much excitement as I can take. Appointments with Nuala are generally jolly.

And I guess it was like this for our ancestors before the advent of the car or automotive mass transit. We stayed local. We knew our locality intimately – the blades of grass as much as all the human inhabitants. Currently, I am slowly savouring an excellent book written by a fifteen year old from Northern Ireland. Diary of a Young Naturalist shows me so much of what I do not notice. I wish I could match the all of the bird species to the songs I hear. Sadly, I may know many by sight, but few by sound.

My Zoom session picked up on a quotation from an article in the 13th June Guardian Review section. Several writers were asked what they had learned under lockdown. I picked up on one quotation from Kiran Millward Hargrave.

What lockdown has taught me is to notice. My luck, yes, and also the many blessings of where I live.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/13/overcoming-fears-discovering-nature-what-i-have-learned-from-lockdown

We have just passed one of the great axis points of the year. In Ireland, summer solstice happened at 10:43 pm last night. The wind was wild and the rain sometimes quite fierce. Then we have the solar eclipse (a new moon) at 4:45am. Yes, I did set the alarm and I scrabbled around trying to get the live feed to the Solstice Gathering in Glastonbury. (I visited at Bealtaine 2018; Chalice Well gardens are beautiful.) But they had some tech difficulties with the wind and weather and the opening was a bit delayed. By the time of the peak of the eclipse it was 7:40. The rain had stopped and wind eased, so I took my drum out onto our new patio area and drummed prayers of gratitude to the land that has held us in its verdant palm through the months of maintaining the collective quarantine.

Love the land and the land loves you back
What I Noticed In My Cocoon

I saw:
the early purple orchid for the first time in eighteen springtimes
I have walked up and down and up and down again
and again on the lane just outside my front door.

I heard:
the cuckoo calling and calling from week three of staying put.
Out in the garden one day my husband called out to me.
A great buff cuckoo had flown over our nest.

I smelled:
anxiety in my sweat. Sometimes it hurt so much to think about... 
I would lean into the kitchen sink and think 
"Brace! Brace! Brace!" and wait for the wave to crash.

I tasted:
so I cooked up whatever deliciousness made from the anything to hand. 
And I baked, rationing out the butter, eggs and the sugar 
to make sure we always had some sweetness on our tongues.

I touched:
I could pat the dog and carry around the cat.
I picked flowers from the garden and arranged them artistically.
I held my husband's hand. Sometimes guiltily. Because I could.

Then:
one day when I pegged the washing on the line I looked up
and saw a jet stream's track arching across a clear, blue sky.
I asked:
Why?

I wanted to write something that was included both the summer solstice and the eclipse. I tried some haiku, a senryu and tanka. In the end, I was most satisfied with the tanka.

weekly poem each Sunday by Bee Smith
solstice eclipse tanka
The weekly poem each Sunday

Keep in touch each Sunday with this blog when I will announce when creative writing workshops will be up and running in the Word Alchemy Zoom Room.